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Jackson County group unveils three historical markers for National Preservation Month

gate for the Jackson County poor farm cemetery
Courtesy
/
Jackson County Michigan Historical Society
The Jackson County Poor Farm housed and helped those who were homeless or sick from 1839 to the mid-1960s.

The Jackson County Michigan Historical Society is celebrating National Preservation Month this May with the unveiling of three new historical markers.

A home that helped those in need, a local landmark and a pre-colonial trail are all being commemorated.

One marker will remember the former Jackson County Poor Farm and cemetery in Blackman Township. The poor farm served the community's impoverished from the mid-19th century to the mid-1960s. The historical society has worked to identify dozens of people buried in the cemetery at the site.

Another marker celebrates The Cascades, a waterfall which was built by former Jackson Mayor William Sparks. The illuminated falls are 500 feet long with six fountains and thousands of color-changing LED lights.

The last new marker will be placed in Kimball Park in Napoleon Township to commemorate the “Nottawa Sepee Trail” used by Indigenous communities both before and after European colonization. Historical society trustee Dan Wymer researched the history of the trail and has excavated Native American campsites and artifacts throughout the county.

WKAR's Sophia Saliby spoke with Historical Society president Maurice Imhoff about the new markers.

Interview Highlights

On the creation of the historical marker program

We wanted to create a program that can help educate all different people of Jackson County on historically significant places. The state marker program costs a bit of money, that takes a lot, so we wanted to create something more local, so we could highlight more areas.

On the importance of The Cascades to the Jackson community

This was built in 1932 and it's a beautiful thing ... let's put ourselves back in the 1930s: a beautiful illuminating falls. We didn't have Netflix to go watch. You went out and you did things. And to travel even it was from Lansing, Traverse City, et cetera to see an illuminated falls must be really nice. And even, to me, as a Jackson resident myself, it's a great way to spend a Friday night to go and watch the falls and watch the music go with it.

On highlighting the area's Indigenous history

Jackson County Native American history goes back 13,000 years ... Jackson County history doesn't start with Horace Blackman when he came to Jackson. He was not the first person here. They were people in Jackson County long before that, and their story deserves to be told.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: The Jackson County Michigan Historical Society is celebrating National Preservation Month this May with the unveiling of three new historical markers.

A home that served those in need in the community, a local landmark and a pre-colonial trail are all being commemorated.

Historical Society President Maurice Imhoff joins me now to talk about the new markers. Thank you for being here.

Maurice Imhoff: Happy to be here.

Saliby: How did the historical marker program in Jackson County get started, and how many are there out in the county?

We wanted to create a program that can help educate all different people of Jackson County on historically significant places.

Imhoff: Our historical marker program got started in 2021, was when we dedicated our first marker. We are actually a newly founded group ... in 2020 and help preserve Jackson County's history.

And we wanted to create a program that can help educate all different people of Jackson County on historically significant places. The state marker program costs a bit of money, that takes a lot, so we wanted to create something more local, so we could highlight more areas.

And we have about, I think, around 14 or 15 markers currently installed in a variety of places across Jackson County.

Saliby: The first marker I'd like to talk about will be at the former Jackson County Poor Farm in Blackmon Township. For those who aren't familiar, what was the poor farm?

Imhoff: Yes, the Jackson County Poor Farm was an institution that cared for individuals from beginning at least in 1839 all the way up to the 1960s for Jackson's low-income, well, kind of like homeless residents. I would almost compare it to a modern-day homeless shelter in today's time. And that was an institution long been forgotten and had been burned down in the 1960s, I believe, around that time. The building had burned down after coming to a close.

All you can see is the little cemetery with no graves, no headstones but a cross that one of our board members had put in there. No one should be forgotten.

And so, the building's gone and the cemetery is kind of on its own on the County Farm Road there. And all you can see is the little cemetery with no graves, no headstones but a cross that one of our board members had put in there. No one should be forgotten.

Our team has done a really great job, I feel, of making sure that that history and all those who are buried that we can identify, to my knowledge, at least 60 people, and we believe there's far more buried at that site.

Saliby: The second marker is at a well-known Jackson landmark, The Cascades which is a nearly century-old, manmade waterfall. Why do you think The Cascades is so iconic for the Jackson community?

Imhoff: It's definitely one of our hallmarks of the community, and it was built to be such. Mr. Sparks, Captain Sparks, William Sparks, many different names there, when he came up with the idea to do this, the whole point was to have something huge for Jackson, something that draws people to Jackson and also something that Jackson residents can be proud of.

historic illustrated postcard of The Cascades in Jackson depicting the falls and the illuminated fountains at night
Courtesy
/
Jackson County Michigan Historical Society
The Cascades opened to the Jackson Community in 1932.

So, this was built in 1932, and it's a beautiful thing. You got to think too, let's put ourselves back in the 1930s: a beautiful illuminating falls. We didn't have Netflix to go watch. You went out and you did things. And to travel even if it was from Lansing, Traverse City, et cetera to see an illuminated falls must be really nice. And even, to me, as a Jackson resident myself, it's a great way to spend a Friday night to go and watch the falls and watch the music go with it.

So really, it was definitely one of the pride and joys, and it was surprising to us to know that there was no historical marker there honoring the historical significance of The Cascades. So, it was one of the things that we said, this needs a marker. People should know the history of the falls when they visit, how it got started, the aspects of it, whose idea was this, so we are very excited about this marker.

Saliby: The last marker going up is in Kimball Park in Napoleon Township to commemorate the “Nottawa Sepee Trail” which was used by Indigenous communities in the area. Can you talk about the process for creating that marker?

Jackson County history doesn't start with Horace Blackman when he came to Jackson. He was not the first person here. They were people in Jackson County long before that, and their story deserves to be told.

Imhoff: A lot of that process was done by one of our trustees in the Jackson County Michigan Historical Society, Mr. Dan Wymer, who serves as the president of the Michigan Archaeological Society. Dan has done so much research on this topic, Native Americans, Indigenous people in Jackson County since he was a young boy, actually.

Jackson County Native American history goes back 13,000 years, according to our trustee Dan Wymer, and he's from that Napoleon Township area, so that's his stomping grounds, as you may say, for some of this research and to now be able to help tell that story. Because it's a story that should be told.

We talk about in our organization, how Jackson County history doesn't start with Horace Blackman when he came to Jackson. He was not the first person here. They were people in Jackson County long before that, and their story deserves to be told. I think this is a really great place to start with recognizing that history.

Saliby: The Jackson County Michigan Historical Society is hosting unveiling ceremonies for these new markers throughout the rest of the month. Maurice Imhoff is the group's president. Thank you for joining me.

Imhoff: Absolutely.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Sophia Saliby is the local producer and host of All Things Considered, airing 4pm-7pm weekdays on 90.5 FM WKAR.
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